Just say no to an over-programmed summer

Acting camp. Dance classes. Violin lessons. Swimming. Tennis team. Basketball league. Even French language tutorials. Does this sound like your kids’ summer plans? Admittedly, it’s hard to turn down all of the exciting opportunities that are available for kids these days. Whether you fall victim to the “I didn’t have this, so my kid should” school of thought or are simply terrified that your Susie will fall behind if she doesn’t sign up for cheerleading camp, it’s difficult to resist the temptation of over-scheduling our kids. Add in some anxiety over the fact that summer is two or three months long and you’ve got an epidemic of overcommitted and free-time starved kids.

Studies have shown that unstructured, creative play is crucial for optimal child development. Play is so important to optimal child development that it has even been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Unfortunately, many children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style by well-intentioned parents that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play. This year, take back your children’s summer vacation, force yourself to be a little less structured, and figure out how to schedule in an adequate amount of free play.

Here are a few ways ideas to help you get started.

1. Remind Yourself Why You Are Doing This.

You are going to find yourself questioned by many, including that nosy neighbor who puts her kids in everything. It is therefore critical to have your answers ready when you get pinned down. Remind yourself that your kids are given an advantage by allowing their creativity to flow and their brains to roam, rather than being hemmed in by a 9-5 type schedule. If you are in need of extra reinforcement on this front, go online and google “free play and child development” and read the clinical report on the importance of play. Another great resource we encourage you to peruse is the blog www.FreeRangeKids.com.

2. Pick Your Favorites.

Sit down with your kids and explain to them why you are intentionally scaling back the summer. Have them determine their one or two favorite activities or programs/camps and then move full steam ahead on those and leave everything else behind. They’ll feel empowered by the selection process and will understand why you feel it’s important to leave room for free time.

3. Plan Some Play Time.

This may seem like an oxymoron (you’re asking me to plan spontaneity?) but it can be helpful to avoid the inevitable “What should I do now” line of questioning. If you’re stuck, one evening after dinner, gather the whole family and have a big, old-fashioned brainstorming. Gin up ideas for rainy days, ideas for hot hot hot days, weekdays and weekends. Jot them down on post-it-notes and stick them to the side of the fridge or a wall in the family room or play room. Then, if a child ever complains of boredom, point them in the direction of the fun wall.

Do you find yourself over-scheduled in the summertime? What do you do to handle it and stay sane? Have you cut back on summer activities that are not with the family? How did your kids handle it?